This U Turn by Nitish Pulverises BJP
While political pundits minutely examine the reasons behind the latest U-turn by Nitish Kumar that saw him decoupling from the NDA and drove out the BJP from the ruling Bihar coalition, the significance of its long-term impact on the political scenario will be watched with great interest. Nitish Kumar had stymied the emergence of an Eknath Shinde in Bihar with his moves.
Speculation is mounting on two likely consequences. The Opposition may soon be projecting Nitish Kumar as challenger to the all-time powerful prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, as the country prepares for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The other ponderable: Will the BJP juggernaut keep rolling relentlessly after the jolt given by the chief minister?
The answer cannot be predicted, but it can be visualised why suddenly so much hope is being built around Nitish Kumar, the Bihari ‘Chanakya’ who has floored a formidable, media-hailed ‘Chanakya’ of all of India, Amit Shah.
There was, of course, no real duel between the two Chankayas, but the drubbing received by the BJP so soon after knocking down the Shiv Sena led three-party coalition in Maharashtra has made many political watchers looking for connections between the Bihar and Maharashtra developments even as they go into the past of Nitish Kumar’s political journey of frequent change of partners.
Most of the allegiance shifts by Nitish Kumar smack of ‘opportunism’ which his supporters might prefer to call necessity for survival. Politicians are not expected to feel shy of asserting their survival instinct.
Nitish Kumar cannot be faulted for the 2022 political divorce when it was apparent that the BJP was forcing his hands. It began right at the start of the 2020 Bihar state assembly polls when the ‘Big Brother’ BJP and its Chanakayas turned down protests by Nitish Kumar and allowed Chirag Paswan, son of the founder of another NDA partner, Lok Jan Shakti (Ram Vilas Paswan), to field his candidates in all the 115 or so assembly constituencies where JD(U) of Nitish Kumar was also contesting.
It was common knowledge that Chirag Paswan was going to cause a lot of damage to the prospects of JD(U) because LJP candidates were going to divide JD(U) votes even if the party had absolutely no chance of winning enough seats to show itself as a major player in the state. In the event, Chirag Paswan was the lone winner of his party. But a point had been made and Nitish Kumar could not have been happy: His party stood third behind RJD and BJP.
Reports of uneasy relations between the two major NDA allies in Bihar reached their apex probably in the last three or four months. Many were already talking of an ‘imminent’ breakdown in their relations as the BJP was said to be becoming too assertive and aggressive.
Though many developments could be cited for deteriorating relations between JD(U) and BJP, what could be called the last straw on the camel’s back was an audacious and politically inappropriate statement by J.P. Nadda, the BJP chief.
While opening a string of BJP offices in district headquarters at a virtual ceremony in Patna within walking distance of the residence of the Bihar chief minister, he declared that as the BJP rolls on ‘regional parties’ will cease to exist.
In the backdrop of the toppling of the MVA government in Maharashtra and the division in the Shiv Sena, Nadda’s words could not have been more ominous for the likes of Nitish Kumar. ‘Regional parties’ allied to the BJP in NDA could not be blamed if they read a clear message of existential threat to them.
Nadda could not have been unaware that while the BJP did gain another ‘success’ in toppling an elected government (Maharashtra), the saffron party had showed itself as a devourer of smaller, regional parties.
For all its ‘national’ pretensions, JD(U) is nothing but a regional party of Bihar where it competes with another regional party, the RJD of the Lalu Yadav family. The two parties have a history of love-hate relationship where the two have joined hands and broken off relations on a number of occasions.
Bihar JD(U) manages to fend off existential threat from Lalu Yadav’s RJD largely because of Nitish Kumar and the support he enjoys among the non-Yadav OBC, Dalits and even Muslims despite his frequent embracing of the BJP. The BJP thought—wrongly–that an alliance with JD(U) will result in transfer of a bulk of supporters of Nitish Kumar to the BJP. Nitish Kumar would in no case let his supporters slip away and would never let the BJP overpower JD(U).
While the BJP was inspired by prospects of capturing a block of voters held captive by Nitish Kumar in Bihar, in Maharashtra the saffron party did not like Shiv Sena of the Thackeray family eat into its base of Hindutva supporters. Perhaps, a bigger attraction for the BJP in Maharashtra was the fact of it being the financial capital of India. Though already counted among the richest parties in the world, the BJP felt uncomfortable with Shiv Sena control over the richest state of India. Shiv Sena refused to play second fiddle to the BJP and invited the wrath of the BJP.
In Punjab, the BJP realised that though the Akalis were among its oldest allies, they did not allow the saffron party to grow, always treating the BJP as a junior partner. The trigger for parting of ways between the two parties in Punjab was provided by the farmers agitating against the ‘black laws’. It may give some consolation to the BJP that the Akalis in Punjab are now long way off from recouping and become a dominant party in state politics.
Nitish Kumar like the rest of the country must have watched how the BJP ‘devoured’ all the ‘regional parties’ in the North-east to establish its rule over the ‘Seven Sisters’.
In Karnataka, the BJP seems divided with a faction that is more loyal to a state leader who built up the local BJP than the bigwigs in Delhi. Here also, the smaller fry who is rumored to be harbouring an ambition to float his own ‘regional’ party faces hurdles from the party bosses in Delhi.
It is clear that the BJP of Modi and Shah brooks no rival, regionally or nationally###
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